Daniellia Clunis (second from right) with her family. (Photo contributed)

Daniellia Clunis (second from right) with her family. (Photo contributed)

Victoria family put ‘boxing gloves on’ to battle rare cancer

Family credits BC Children’s Hospital for care

Tanara Oliveira/News Staff

As children across the nation eagerly returned to school in September, they embraced the simple, yet profound joys that come with a new academic year — reuniting with friends, relishing outdoor play and embarking on exciting learning adventures.

For one resilient 15-year-old, however, the return to school represented a triumph over adversity.

In November 2021, the life of Victoria resident Daniellia Clunis took an unexpected turn when she was diagnosed with osteoblastic osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. Her journey since then has been marked by unwavering courage and determination.

Due to COVID-19, the family had the first appointment via a telephone medical appointment and Daniellia didn’t have a physical exam, even after complaining about knee pain. An X-ray later revealed a lump.

“As it was in the Christmas season, our result got delayed by two weeks,” said Danneisha Griffin, Daniellia’s mom. “During that wait period, the pain got stronger and I decided to take her to the urgent care. When I took her there, around Jan. 5, the doctor told us that was no impression of anything on her knee. The results were clear. Nothing of concern, they said, claiming that it was a sports injury. So I said to them that being a former athlete myself, I knew this was not a sports injury. This required additional investigation. The doctor got upset with me, asking if I was a medical doctor. I need to be adamant and keep pushing. After this, we were called back for ultrasound two days later and based on the ultrasound they discovered the mass.”

That’s when the doctor had a change in attitude.

“So the doctor, when we got the results, told me that she was sorry to bring us bad news but Dannellia had cancer,” said Griffin. “She said that I was right and that they missed it. And that they believed in mother’s intuition. I appreciated it, but I was hurt because they didn’t believe in me at first.”

After that, the family made contact with BC Children’s Hospital and BC Cancer Foundation and all the organizations that could attend to Clunis’ needs. The doctor explained that it would be a battle, but Clunis was in good hands.

“We then put our boxing gloves on, as I liked to say, and from that moment Daniellia was in a battle for her life,” said Griffin.

Clunis underwent over 30 weeks of intensive treatments and surgeries, facing the formidable trials of her condition head-on. Unfortunately, this meant missing a significant portion of her 2022 school year as she dedicated herself to recovery.

“Based on the discussed treatment plan, we knew that Daniellia was in good hands and will receive the best of care at the BC Children’s Hospital because they provide specialized and innovative therapy, as well as pediatric expertise so this was an ongoing conversation in terms of the support that we would have.”

The two main challenges faced by Clunis and her family were the distance from friends and the challenges faced as the treatment progressed, including the constant pain.

“We spent almost a year in Vancouver so I would only be able to see my siblings only the weekends,” Clunis said.“I also missed my friends because being in a hospital, you know, with your family, is great. But you also feel alone. You are not able to come back to normal because of a disease and you also don’t want your friends to see you in the way that you are because it might affect them and also affect you for the way they react. I also love and missed being outside because nature just calms me down.”

Griffin said she had to be strong for her daughter and some of the times being strong wasn’t easy.

“For me, to be watching it, as a mom, was one of the most difficult experiences of my life. To see her transitions, the changes in her body, the struggles. To be in the same space as her all the time and see her holding on to me and squeeze me and cry and ask me why her body was doing this to her, and for me not to have the answer and try not to break in from of her and my other two daughters, was really hard. But I knew that everything will be well despite what I was seeing.”

The family agreed to share their story to help promote the BC Children’s Hospital Dream Lottery, which offers choices of cash and luxury homes, plus an early bird prize and a 50-50 that’s up to more than $1.8 million. Visit bcchildren.com for more information.